Capital Punishment: A World View

By James Avery Joyce | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
Who Killed Chessman?

"I wanted to destroy this myth that those monsters on Death Row spring full blown from Hell."--CARYL CHESSMAN

ON MAY 27, 1921, A NORMAL, HEALTHY BABY BOY WAS BORN to American parents in a small town in Michigan, who was to achieve universal fame as history's most murdered man. His death on May 2, 1960, thirty-nine years later, after twelve of excruciating mental torture in a California jail, was to become a symbol of the peril which now threatens to reduce the human race to radioactive dust.

When the maws of America's most scientifically-designed personal Hell finally closed around Chessman three minutes after 10 A.M. on Monday, May 2, the mystic rites of deterrence had taken their predetermined course; but a shudder ran down the spines of the sixty or more assembled spectators, as if, deep down inside, everyone present had unconsciously asked the same question of himseff--and received the same answer: "If Chessman could not escape, how can I?"

How did it come about that that normal little boy found himself transformed as a man into a "red light bandit" and, at yet an early age, condemned to die for crimes he knew he had never committed (though he confessed to many others), destined to fight a battle of wits against his nation's judges, which has had no precedent in legal history?

-19-

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